The term “martial arts”, in its most fundamental sense, refers to the art of fighting. Whether in the literal sense of fighting a physical opponent, or the more abstract, spiritual concept of fighting to become the best possible version of one’s self, (via ‘the art of fighting without fighting’) when you think of martial arts, your mind invariably moves to the idea of combat.
However, as with all things in the martial arts world, to view things from only one angle would be a fallacy, especially when the discipline of Parkour exists as the perfect compliment to the art of combat.
Originating in France, Parkour is predicated on navigating one’s surrounding environment in the most efficient way possible. Practitioners of the arts, referred to as “traceurs”, learn to circumvent whatever obstacles stand in their way while maintaining a constant forward momentum. Aside from being a dynamic and exciting physical discipline for both participants and spectators (one that’s even been implemented by numerous military branches globally), Parkour has its own deeper significance and principles, teaching traceurs to take the path of least resistance in the face of obstructions for the sake of always moving forward.
Naturally, such a fluid, high-velocity art as Parkour lends itself well to action movies, often being placed directly parallel to more traditional martial arts action to show their complimentary aspects, along with how Parkour stands on its own merits and its own truly distinctive set of principles.
Saying all this can only mean one thing – time to lace up and limber up dear readers as we prepare to vault you through some death-defying action with KFK’s Top 5 Parkour Movie Scenes! (in descending order)
- District 13: Ultimatum (2009) — The Rooftop Chase
- Assassin’s Creed (2016) — The Assassin’s Escape
- Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003) — The Street Market Chase
- Casino Royale (2006) — The Construction Site Chase
The original “District 13” kicked off with a Parkour chase that was simply incredible, so it just went without saying that its 2009 sequel, “District 13: Ultimatum” had to deliver Parkour action of at least the same caliber.
Where Leito, played by David Belle, was fleeing a rival gang the first time out, this time it’s a SWAT team that’s in hot pursuit of our freerunning anti-hero. The original “District 13” was such a wild ride of Parkour and martial arts right out of the gate, “Ultimatum” really had no choice but to hit viewers with its own electrifying apartment escape and have Leito leaping from one rooftop to another several stories lower.
If there’s a complaint to be had in comparison with the opening chase of its predecessor, it’s that the soundtrack is much more heart racing in the original, but that’s far from enough to depower such marvellous stunt work with Leito literally zip-lining from rooftop to rooftop to escape his pursuers. Like the original, “District 13: Ultimatum” has the art of an exhilarating Parkour chase down to a science, and even one this finely-tuned is just a fraction of what the film has to offer – which, in this case, includes a far more rock-shocking ending!
The idea of the term “good” being at all applicable to a video game movie is sadly a rare phenomenon in the lives of gamers. However, the idea of one being filled with daredevil stunts and action worthy of comparison with “Mad Max: Fury Road” is rarer still, to the point of sounding downright laughable.
But that’s just the Christmas miracle that “Assassin’s Creed” pulled off with a vengeance during the 2016 holiday season. Anyone familiar with even a single game in the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise can tell you that Parkour is an integral element of the series – so much so, in fact, that its arguable that it deserves as much credit for the rise of Parkour into the mainstream as the discipline’s usage in action films does.
It was the explicit goal of director Justin Kurzel to film as much of the film’s stunts and action without wirework and CGI as possible. You can see that dedication clear as day as our two assassin heroes Aguilar and Maria, played by Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed, flee their pursuers on the rooftops of medieval Spain, leaping over and around one obstacle after another.
What’s more, the area of the film where CGI and wirework are put to use is the most fitting one possible in the form of “the Animus”, a high-tech machine allowing our modern hero Cal, also played by Fassbender, to relive the very same rooftop chase his long-dead ancestor is engaging in.
The chase even culminates with the series’ trademark “Leap of Faith”, which is truly done justice here by Fassbender’s stunt man, freerunner Damien Walters, who executed a 125-foot (38-metre) drop, one of the highest free falls ever performed by a stuntman. In making the “Indiana Jones” meets “The Matrix” premise of the games real, delivering masterful Parkour action was absolutely essential for “Assassin’s Creed”, and fortunately, the film hit the bull’s-eye. Be sure to also check out the process of bringing the incredible “Leap of Faith” stunt to life!
Think back to the first time you saw Tony Jaa cyclone his way into super-stardom with “Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior”. You did what all action-nerds did, which was to list off every electrifying stunt and action sequence in the film to family, friends, and perfect strangers on the street. And let’s be honest, the money shot of Tony soaring through that wreath of barbed wire was most likely right at the top of that list. Of course, that moment is just a split-second of one of the greatest foot chases ever filmed, and one that really captured the essence of Parkour a few years before the term itself had even entered the vernacular.
Our hero Ting, played by Tony Jaa, is more than capable of standing his ground when he must, but part of being a true warrior is knowing which battles are actually winnable, and that’s where Parkour comes in. It’s still amazing to see the sheer volume of obstacles Tony is able to vault over, under, or through with ease, including cars, butcher knives, and people, and the scene adds a nice dose of levity with the far lesser Parkour skills of his ally Humlae, played by Petchtai Wongkamlao.
Of course, Tony also manages to work a little flashy Muay Thai action in as well, and the whole chase culminates with our hero running atop the shoulders of his pursuers like a stair master. “Ong Bak” deservedly gets tons of credit for raising the bar of martial arts action in the early 21st century, but its unforgettable contribution to the popularity of Parkour shouldn’t be overlooked either. Be sure to also keep the pause button handy for that shout-out to Steven Spielberg painted on the wall behind Ting as our nimble hero corkscrews through the air!
Now THIS is how you kick off a James Bond movie! With the mantle of 007 formally passed from the sauve, charming Pierce Brosnan to the tough, rugged Daniel Craig, director Martin Campbell, who previously helmed 1995’s “Goldeneye”, would take the Bond series into edgier territory with 2006’s “Casino Royale”.
This 007 is newer to the spy game with a much more rebellious attitude, and by far the most physical James Bond ever known. Case in point – the opening Parkour chase of “Casino Royale”, an all-time classic curtain-raiser if ever there was one.
While in Madagascar, our hero is in hot pursuit of bomb-maker Mollaka, played by famed traceur Sébastien Foucan, and there’s simply never been a Bond movie starting out with this kind of unbridled energy. Like Mr. Foucan himself, the opening chase just keeps climbing higher and higher, pulling off crazier and crazier stunts, with Bond and his adversary scaling a construction site, leaping from one towering crane to another, and pinballing through a vacant elevator shaft.
The chase even gives us a nice, subtle hint about this new Bond’s approach to dealing with tough situations when Mollaka jumps through a narrow hole near the top of an unfinished wall. Our hero responds by simply bursting right through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, and in that split second, we know that this is a James Bond who doesn’t let anything stand in his way when he’s on a mission.
Whether you’re a fan of the James Bond franchise or a complete newcomer, the opening Parkour chase of “Casino Royale” is just about the best action sequence the decades’ long career of 007 has ever delivered. Be sure to also check out KFK’s Top 10 James Bond Movie Fights, where this entry, not unexpectedly also holds a well-deserved place of honor!
…and in at #1 is….
District 13 (2004) — The Apartment Escape
Well, this one certainly goes without saying, doesn’t it? To say that “District 13” played a seminal role in exploding the popularity of Parkour onto the world stage would be an understatement, and it’s all the more fitting that one of the discipline’s very founders, David Belle, portrays the freerunning anti-hero of the film, Leito.
Prior to “District 13”, many in the English-speaking world had never even heard the word “Parkour”, let alone had the slightest idea that it entails navigating one’s encompassing obstacles in the most fluid and dynamic way possible.
Leito literally bursts through the door of his apartment, catching his enemies off guard, before sprinting, vaulting, and climbing through everything and everyone in his path with a mind-blowing level of agility and precision. There are moments here where you genuinely can’t help but wonder how they pulled off certain stunts safely (i.e. the poor guy who foolishly tries to grab the rope after Leito leaps out of the window), and the pace and tone of the entire chase is just one of the most flawless out-of-the-gate action sequences you could ever be privileged to witness.
The fact that it only represents about ten percent of what the film has to offer just further cements “District 13” as an instant action classic – one that, in its own way, kicked off a 21st century French New Wave facilitating a leaping jump of Parkour across the planet!